Librarian Preview: Chronicle Books (Fall/Winter 2010)
Ah! There we go. You know, there are lots of publishers out there that aren’t stationed in New York City. And out of all of them, Chronicle Books is the company (based out of San Francisco) that really feels like it should be located in Brooklyn or something. Alas for us, the opposite coast is the one lucky enough to have them. The best we can hope for is a visit from Cathleen Brady, showing us their newest children’s book season to see what goodies lie in store. That’s just what happened recently, and that’s just why we have such books to look upon today.
First up, Ivy & Bean. Now this little early chapter book series has been mighty popular in my library branch, I assure you. But unobservant me, I’d never noticed who the illustrator was. I probably could have told you that the author was Annie Barrows. But the artist? Sophie Blackall strikes again! You remember Sophie, right? Aside from doing picture books like Wombat Walkabout (written by Carol Diggory) and having a site where she illustrates Missed Connections (I own a print of her library one), Blackall was probably best known last year when she created the cover for the Newbery winning When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Woman gets around! Color me impressed. Now she has illustrated Ivy & Bean #7 Ivy & Bean: What’s the Big Idea? It’s the global warming one (all series have a global warming / environment book at this point) combined with science fair elements.
Let’s talk about the advantages and disadvantages of physically large children’s books. Disadvantage = Hard to shelve. Advantage = Eye-catching. Indeed, I’ve always been a fan of books that you can place on the top of a shelf and spot easily from fifty paces away. Pittau & Gervais now test that fandom of mine with Out of Sight. Weighing in at 11" X 15 1/4", this French guessing game asks kids to identify animals by their fur / colors / footprints and then has big fancy flaps that you can lift for the answers. You know what that means, don’t you? Helloooo, new preschool storytime aid. Here’s a quickie inside peek to give you an idea of what I’m talking about:
Recently someone told me that when you run across a children’s book idea and ask yourself, "Now why has no one thought of that before?," that’s a pretty good indication that the idea is strong. Certainly I found myself saying it with this latest book from Keith Graves. Graves is best known in my library branch as the author/illustrator of Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance (a.k.a. the book you put on the Halloween cart when all the actual Halloween books have already been checked out). And Chicken Big is his latest. On a small farm an enormous chicken is born. Unfortunately for it, the other chickens on the farm aren’t the brightest sorts. The story is a twist on the old Chicken Little tale and is told with a fun format that makes use of speech balloons and the like. As for the images themselves, there’s a kind of George Booth style to his poultry. I was fond of his authorial description in the catalog too. "Strangely, he has the same name as another guy who wrote the book Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance, as well as some other ridiculous books, but we doubt he’s the same guy."
Earlier this month author/artist Todd Parr paid a visit to my library and I gotta say, the man’s a class act. Not only was he sweet as all get out, but he also donated a magnificent piece of original art to my children’s room (which, hopefully, I’ll get to show you on this blog soon). The thing about Parr is that he combines a simple artistic style with a color scheme kids go flat out bonkers for. I kid you not. He gave us some bookmarks and as my library’s clerks took them home children accosted them on the subway demanding some of their own. He’s a genius with the color palette, I tell ya. Two items on the Chronicle Books list that won’t be much use to libraries but that may amuse you anyway are his Feelings Flash Cards and the Create Your Own Planet: Doodle and Draw book. The flash cards are pretty much what they sound like. Parr has created images of different emotions. Each card has one emotion per side, and they tend to be opposites. I can think of a fair amount of applications for such things. As for Create Your Own Planet, it’s sort of the Ed Emberley line of thought. Since Parr’s style is so simple, kids won’t feel intimidated to color in the book, make their own drawings, and use the stickers they find there. Hopefully he’ll release his own line of markers and crayons someday. Wouldn’t be a half bad notion.
Chronicle is never more hipster-esque than when they produce books and other items with the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Once you’re done tittering over the ultra-mod MoMA Modern Play House (which actually looks like it’s straight out of The Incredibles) you can enjoy the MoMA Make Mistakes / Make Art book. The book’s goal is to (much as the Parr coloring book did) take away the intimidation factor to creativity. You screwed up a drawing? Don’t sweat it. Make something out of that mistake. Sounds like fun but, again, you wouldn’t want to put it in a library collection.
One fellow you would like to put in a library collection is Mr. Magee. Now I read the name "Mr. Magee" and it reminds of me one thing. Mr. Magoo. Rather than feature a shortsighted doddering man, though, the Mr. Magee books feature a horn-rimmed glasses wearing fellow who looks like he climbed out of a 1954 how-to film and never looked back. Mr. Magee has already appeared in books like Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee and Camping Spree with Mr. Magee, which I missed entirely. Now author/illustrator Chris Van Dusen tackles yet another 50s activity in Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee. Wearing fabulous skis, his customary straw hat, and a quilted green jacket that’s pretty kickin’, Mr. Magee and his dog Dee attempt the snowy slopes. Hijinks ensue. Alas, due to his love of the classic old-fashioned tropes, I doubt we’ll ever see Playing Some Wii with Mr. Magee, but a gal can dream.
Just the other day I was pleased as punch to see that Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast had highlighted the Suzy Lee title Mirror. In that book Lee played with the gutter and the space within your average picture book format. Interestingly, she does something very similar with Chronicle’s upcoming Shadow as well. Like Mirror, Shadow plays with the gutter of a book and the interaction between images on one page and another. However, unlike Mirror this book opens vertically. The top pages show a little girl playing and the bottom pages show her shadow and the shadows of the objects around her. As the story progresses, her imagination gives these shadows personalities and fantastical shapes they might not have otherwise. Lee does some of the most creative and imaginative picture books out there. Titles like The Zoo and Wave are consistently praised worldwide. Alas, the woman lives and works in Singapore, so unless she moves to the States there will be no Caldecotts in her future. We’ll just have to pile on top of her all the other awards for illustration that we can instead.
J. otto Siebold sports a style like no other illustrator today. I’ll stand by that statement. It’s a style that resembles alternative comic art when you first encounter it. A wild madcap spree that feels oddly dangerous, even when he keeps well within the realm of propriety. His newest with Chronicle is Other Goose: Re-Nursuried and Re-Rhymed Children’s Classics. Nursery stories amped up, hepped up, and generally given a shot of good old-fashioned psychedelica. The Mother Goose rhymes of yore are, as he says, re-rhymed in new ways. Good times.
Here’s a picture book staple that never seems to get old: Stories where kids have to follow a single line. Everything from Follow the Line by Laura Ljungkvist to The Red Thread by Tord Nygren to this year’s Hugo and the Really Long String by Bob Boyle follow the same basic premise: You follow a single line. A Long Piece of String by William Wondriska has one advantage over these books, you know. It was originally published in 1963. And while I wouldn’t call it the first book to start this idea, it’s certainly close. Wondriska is, by all accounts, a famous graphic designer and the original jacket of this book has now been reworked so that it appears as the endpapers. What really sets it apart, however, is that it’s a supremely subtle alphabet book. The line wraps about various animals, but nowhere does it announce that it even IS an alphabet book. You just have to figure it out when you identify the animals one by one. Clever idea.
Now the interesting thing about Day & Night by Teddy Newton is its pedigree. We’re looking a Pixar book, people. Yeah. I know. I instinctively cringe away from production companies putting out pb fare too. The interesting thing to me is that Pixar went with Chronicle Books as their publisher here and not, say, Hyperion which is actually owned by Disney. Hrm. In any case, this is a pb version of a short that will run before Toy Story 3, once that movie is in theaters (release date June 18th, by my calculations). The premise is, as with most Pixar shorts, pretty slick. One little dude displays nighttime activities. Another little dude displays daytime. They meet and things get a touch wacky.
So I’m reading my Collecting Children’s Books the other day and in one post Peter starts speculating about small publishers that win big awards. Says he, "Could a kids’ book published by a small press ever come out of nowhere to win the Newbery or Caldecott? No reason it couldn’t. In fact, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before now. Yet going through the list of previous Newbery winners and Honor Books, nearly all seem to have been published by major, mainstream publishers. Sure, a few of the early books were issued by publishers that now sound unfamiliar (such as Longmans, which released winner WATERLESS MOUNTAIN and number of Honors from the twenties and thirties) those companies were well-known at the time. The Caldecott seems to be the more daring of the two major awards. In recent years they honored CASEY AT THE BAT (Christopher Bing) which was released by the smallish Handprint Books . . ." This fact I did not know, but it was kind of how the world came to learn of Christopher Bing’s existence. The man has since created everything from the jaw-droppingly amazing Little Black Sambo to the illustrations in (speaking of big books) Lincoln Shot! by Barry Denenberg. Generally speaking Bing doesn’t fool around with color all that often. His upcoming The Story of Little Red Riding Hood, however, changes all of that. Bing immerses himself in color. Bright beautiful color. From the forget-me-nots on the cover to the shocking red of the plump little girl’s outfit, he has embraced the world of shades and hues, leaving one to wonder if he’ll ever turn away from it again. Best of all, there are tip-ins at the back of other variations on the Little Red Riding Hood tale. If this does well, I do hope that Bing will consider other such fairy tales. I’d love to see what he could do with a little Hans Christian Andersen.
Though he’s a Brooklyn-born artist who lives in New York City, Bob Gill’s book The Present is of Italian origin. Due on shelves in November, this is the book Chronicle will be putting out to tie-in with the Christmas season. In the story, a little boy notes a wrapped present hidden in his parents’ closet. He speculates as to what it might be, but when the time is right he makes a small sacrifice that will give a whole bunch o’ folks the warm n’ fuzzies.
Periodically the children’s literature and YA literature blogs note how similar the bulk of the YA jackets out there are (here’s just one excellent example from Jacket Whys). Even when you spot something different it still feels like it’s been done before. That’s why I found (deep breath now) Prisoners in the Palace: A Novel of Intrigue and Romance About How Princess Victoria Became Queen with the Help of a Maid, a Newspaperman, and a Scoundrel (whew!) by Michaela MacColl to be such a visual shocker:
Fact of the matter is, I can think of nothing YA that is even remotely close to this. When they place this in the YA section of the bookstores it will stand out incredibly. Add in the fact that they’re printing this jacket with foil to make it shiny and that the book is based on "newly discovered information" about princess Victoria and you’ve got yourself one heckuva interesting proposition. The Patricia Reilly Giff blurb doesn’t hurt matter much either.
I always want the Stanley books by Craig Frazier to do better in my library. Do you own them? They’re these fun designy picture books with titles like Stanley Mows the Lawn, which are droll but don’t catch the preschooler eye as well as they might. Lots of Dots, also by Craig Frazier, almost feels like the complete opposite of the Stanley titles in comparison. Incredibly colorful, it’s all bright hues and white backgrounds. Dotty.
I’ve always gotten a lot of use out of the Steve Jenkins book Actual Size. It’s one of those books where animals appear the same size that they would in nature. Now Lola M. Schaefer comes out with a similar idea in Just One Bite. Examining what animals eat and how much a single bite would actually be, the book is done in real size and examines everything from sperm whales devouring giant squids (which is automatically awesome, you will agree) to drooling komodo dragons. Looks fun.
And that, as they say, is that. Many thanks to Cathleen Brady, once again, for giving me a sneak peek. I’ll be pleased to see how these books fare in the coming season.
Filed under: Librarian Previews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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